In May 2016, two Ohio prison inmates climbed into a state vehicle with the No. 2 official in the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction's Penal Industries program.
They drove to Greenville near the Indiana line, where they picked up a tanning bed and a soda machine. They installed the tanning bed in the official’s house, and they put the soda machine at his place of work, according to a report Thursday by the Office of Inspector General Randall J. Meyer.
That action, plus the unpermitted construction of a “smoke shack” for the program’s chief, and discount car repairs for employees were among the many abuses that the report documented in the Ohio Penal Industries program, which is intended to provide inmates with vocational skills.
The 82-page report says “employees assigned to work at the Ohio Penal Industries (OPI) were using their positions for personal gain.” In all, it details 26 instances of wrongdoing or impropriety that were referred to Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien, Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein and Ohio Ethics Commission Executive Director Paul Nick.
"In conjunction with the Franklin County prosecutor’s office, we will pursue prosecution for any and all wrongdoing uncovered by this investigation," said Klein spokeswoman Meredith Tucker. O'Brien and Nick said they're reviewing the report.
The four Ohio Penal Industries officials accused of wrongdoing in the report no longer work for the department, spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said.
Among those out of a job is Assistant Chief Todd Cordial, who was fired on Feb. 26 from his $92,358-a-year position. He was the official who took inmates to Greenville on the state's dime. In 2017, he told investigators that he never intended to keep the money generated by the soda machine, but "investigators concluded Cordial did receive money from the proceeds generated by the machine," the report said.
A phone number for Cordial couldn't be located Thursday in public-records databases.
Also out of a job is Penal Industries Chief Sheri Duffey, who was paid $110,758 a year. Not only did she have inmates and employees build the enclosed and ventilated "Sheri's smoke shack" onto a state building in which smoking is prohibited, but she also received cut-rate auto repairs from the Penal Industries Auto Service Center in Columbus, which was losing money. Duffey couldn't be reached Thursday for comment.
Also among the report's findings is that the corrections department undertook $8.9 million in improvements to its dairy farms in 2015 even as it was deciding to close all of Ohio Penal Industries’ farming operations. The state has been trying to sell off the prison farmland, but Smith on Thursday said that "not all of the farmland has been sold at this time."
Penal Industries officials also oversaw the swapping of farm equipment for bulldozers and other heavy equipment for a nonexistent inmate-training program. Three program employees, including the No. 3 official, Dan Kinsel, then took a trip to Iowa. The junket included a tour of the John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum and a riverboat cruise, and it was paid for in part by Murphy Tractor and Equipment Co., the vendor that facilitated the trade-ins. Accepting such perks from a business with which the state is doing business is a violation of state law, the report said.
Kinsel has since retired after being placed on administrative leave from his $68,794-a-year position. Penal Industries Chief Fiscal Officer Todd Thobe, who was paid $109,715 annually, was demoted and then retired, Smith said.
The prisons department insists it's dealing with the problems unearthed in the investigation.
Spokeswoman Smith said, "Aggressive actions have already been taken to improve overall operations, including leadership and personnel changes within the Ohio Penal Industries and significant changes in policy and procedures. We will review the report to determine what, if any, additional steps need to be taken."
John Coleman, a 28-year employee and former prison warden with a master's degree in executive management, now leads Ohio Penal Industries.